Saturday, April 26, 2008

Anne Le Fert (Questionable Excommunication part 2)

The excommunication of Anne Le Fert is our first case, for reasons which will not be clear shortly. It is also however the one the reader is least likely to be familiar with. Anne Le Fert was the wife of of John Calvin's brother Antoine Calvin excommunicated and divorced for immodesty. The standard reference for this case is Seeger, Cornelia Seeger's Nullité de mariage, divorce et séparation de corps à Genève au temps de Calvin: fondements doctrinaux, loi et jurisprudence. An excellent treatment in English is available in Robert Kingdon's Adultry and Divorce in Calvin's Geneva. Anne is no particular historical importance in and of herself. But her case and Calvin's poor handling of it resulted in Bernese courts putting and end to the independence of the Calvinist theocracy. The Presbyterian right has dreamed for centuries of returning to a state church similar to the one that existed under Calvin (Christian Reconstructionism is a modern example). The case of Anne Le Fert shows us how the original died.

Anne Le Fert was the daughter of a very succesful French Businessman Nicholas Le Fert who provided his daughter with a dowry of 150 écus plus quite a bit of expensive furniture, a step up for the Calvin family economically. Antoine was focused on leveraging his brother's political power to create wealth and marriage to Anne was likely part of that program. Anne was younger than Idelette de Bure, John Calvin's wife, and Antoine operated his home and business out of the home that had been provided by Geneva for John. The result was that Anne had responsibility for running Antoine's household and some responsibility for his employees, however, she was under the management of Idelette a woman she did not get along with. Idelette became seriously ill around 1547 and continued to deteriorate until her death in 1549. During this period Anne's responsibilities extended to John's household and this would have been more complex given his political position. Further it brought her into much more direct contention with Idelette and indirectly with John.

So by 1548 Anne was angry, John disliked her and Idelette was dying. Anne either decided to start having an affair or heavily flirted with a Jean Chautemps a frequent business partner of Antoine's and someone of Anne's economic class. On September 27, 1548 John Calvin filed a formal charge of adultery against Anne Le Fert. It should be commented here that John given his obvious biases and conflicts of interest rightfully recused himself from the case and passed it over to the Consistory, which was the religious judicial / legislative branch under Calvin in Geneva and allowed them rule in his absence. The Consistory found a great deal of suspicious behavior, including Jean Chautemps having visiting Anne in her bed chamber at 3:00 am. But they were not able to actually prove intercourse, and so Anne and Jean were convicted of immodest behavior, but there was no conviction for adultery. As an aside to those worried the methods in this blog won't work I'd comment that this is an example of Anne successfully utilizing the plead to a lesser charge defense against John Calvin himself.

The net result was that Jean had to spend a short period of time in prison and Anne was required to publicly apologize and beg her husband to take her back on her hands and knees in a legally mandated ceremony. Antoine as part of the ceremony was to formally take her back and Antoine and Anne were reconciled. This meant Anne resumed her place running the Calvin household on October 18, 1548. Jean was furious at the intrusion into his life and became a leader of the Perrinists (literally patriots) who attempted to role back the Calvinist government for its intrusiveness in private affairs.

Over the next eight years Antoine and Anne resumed normal relations and had two children. John grew to dislike Anne's management of his household ever more strongly and wanted her thrown out. Throughout these intervening years John Calvin had played on class resentment and had successfully exiled the Perrinists to territories outside the city. This exile communities are the origin of the title "Children of Geneva" or and the areas where they lived "Little Geneva". I suspect the friction between Anne and John may very well come from the fact that Anne had Perrinist sympathies, even though her father Nicholas Le Fert was a major financier of John Calvin's political victory. As an aside, its worth commenting that the modern Kinists (a white supremest form of Christianity) in adopting the "little Geneva" term are identifying with upper class anti-Presbyterian and often anti-reformation opponents of Calvin's rather than Calvin which I assume is what is intended, a piece of irony I think most of my readers will find amusing.

Having consolidated his power John felt comfortable enough to attack Anne and on January 7th, 1557 another charge of adultery was filled. This time against her and an employee of Antoine's by the name of Pierre Dauget. There was no simple recusal here, John Calvin led the charge. He had compiled seven witnesses that could testify to Anne's affair and further he pushed the case directly to the small council (which investigates criminal matters). The small council looked into the evidence and frankly found it wanting. While the witnesses could testify to Anne being "overly familiar" with Pierre there was no evidence they had ever been alone. Most of the witnesses were former employees of Anne's that held grudges for various reasons. And further consideration of the evidence showed that every single encounter between Anne and Pierre appeared to be for business purposes and there was no evidence that Anne had done anything more than treat Pierre as a trusted servant. That is the investigation found evidence not consistent with adultery but rather consistent with an overly zealous prosecutor attempting to railroad a charge. John Calvin's insistence led the small council deciding to reopen the Jean Chautemps case to establish a pattern of adultery and question Anne on both counts under torture. To do this required the case be treated as capital adultery.

Under torture Anne maintained her innocence in both cases. She however could not adequately explain many of her previous actions with Jean Chautemps and the small council decided to grant a joint judgment of divorce and exile Anne on pain of whipping. Geneva law recognized the legitimacy of remarriage in the case of divorce of adultery outside of Geneva. So Anne's 1573 remarriage to Jean-Louis Ramal (another Children of Geneva) was legal for the Geneva government. Because there was no finding of adultery Jean-Louis was entitled to Anne's dowry which was still under Antoine's control even under Geneva law. But Antoine wanted the money. Since the couple did not live in Geneva the case fell under the court of Bernese. The court held that, consistent with many other cases that in case of divorce for adultery the innocent party gained rights over all joint property, however in a divorce without a finding of guilt the husband maintained the dowry only in trust. There been no finding of guilt associated with the divorce and hence the money was for Jean-Louis.

When Jean-Louis entered Geneva territory to pursue the case he was imprisoned due to his use of a "foreign court". Bernese government became enraged believing, quite rightly, that the core issue was Antoine attempting to violate the law so as keep Anne's dowry. That is that Antoine and John Calvin were acting like common thieves. It was at this point that the Bernese government began acting directly as a supervising state authority. They ordered an Geneva arbitrator appointed to handle the case taking it out of the control of John Calvin. In other words Geneva was no longer acting like an independent country but rather a religious governed enclave within Bernese territory.

John Calvin had invalidly excommunicated his sister in law, mainly because he didn't like her personality and as a result had ended the experiment in independent theocratic government in a failure. An excommunication of a nobody, by historical standards, resulting in a disaster for Presbyterianism from which it never recovered. And that was the reason I choose Anne Le Fert to go first. This sort of effect is not unusual invalid excommunications quite often result in extensive damage to the churches that perform them. The rest of the cases involve people of historical note and importance and it might be tempting for a minister to believe that these sorts of effects can only arise when an important person is excommunicated. Anne Le Fert proves the opposite.

Calvin authored Institutes of the Christian Religion, during the two years after Anne. It was probably then that Calvin realized he was going to be remembered as a great religious thinker but not as the inventor of a new society.


I'll close with my own personal theory. I believe that Anne and Jean Chautemps had a intimate relationship but never had intercourse. They talked, laughed spent time together kissed, flirted and may have engaged in other sex play but never intercourse. Jean Chautemps was a better choice for a husband for Anne in terms of age, values and economic standing. That is a perfect example of why excessive parental involvement can lead to quite unhappy marriages. Antoine and Anne were quite simply incompatible. Antoine wanted Anne for her money and Anne's father wanted a closer connection to John Calvin.

I further believe that Antoine compounded the situation by living in John Calvin's house. John Calvin had exacting moral standards and needed to fight against any hint of impropriety due to his base of support. Having a woman run his household that fundamentally rejected his views must have been deeply embarrassing and a constant source of friction. Had he chosen to remarry after Idelette's death the tension might have reduced because Anne would no longer have been responsible for the John Calvin household but only the Antoine Calvin household and business. But he did not remarry.

I think it was Anne's open rebelliousness, for example casual familiarity the servants that troubled John Calvin, not adultery. It was the petty embarrassment: day after day, week after week, year after year that drove him. There was no affair nor nothing like an affair between Anne Le Fert and Pierre Dauget, what there was a wholesale rejection of the sort of strict behavioral guidelines that John Calvin would have expected between a woman and her male employee. Further compounding their disagreement on morals, there were political issues. It is my belief that John Calvin after spending years to have the Perrinists exiled the idea of having a Perrinist in all but name not only living but managing his household was intolerable.

This was the point that John Calvin decided to launch his plan. Antoine had primarily married Anne for the dowry and would be unlikely to be able to sustain that kind of loss without damaging the business, nor would he be able (in fact he was not able) to have married a woman with a dowry that large again. So John Calvin didn't want merely a divorce he needed a conviction for adultery. That Anne in the end would be found innocent probably never crossed his mind when he first decided to build a case against her based on the enormous body of evidence which created the appearance of a pattern of impropriety and immorality. There was a second reason for the trumped up charge, not having an adultery trial would have constituted an admission that he essentially desired for his brother a divorce on the grounds of joint consent / irreconcilable differences rather than any sort of violation of behavior. So it was in trying to protect his reputation against hypocrisy that John Calvin crossed the line into outright theft. To have acted this strongly only to have in effect freed Anne and damaged his brother would have made him look like a fool. I believe in the end it was pride not greed that caused John Calvin to end up looking a great deal like a thief trying to dishonestly keep Anne's money.


Areopa said...

Thank you for taking the time to outline this...a fascinating bit of history.

Keep up the good work.
>>>Kevin D. Johnson

CD-Host said...

Kevin --

Thank you for reading it. I've always loved your site. You might find the dialogue on Federal Vision and Catholicism interesting.

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